Monday, August 21, 2006

gorecki's 3rd

i finally bought górecki's 3rd (the "symphony of sorrowful songs"). i first heard it through chris perrius, my friend in raleigh, back around 1993 when the famous london sinfonietta / dawn upshaw recording first came out and sold like gangbusters in 1993. i made a cassette copy back then and had not listened to it for many years. it's pretty ubiquitous in the used CD bins now, which is why i held out for an ultra-cheap copy at the half-price books in north olmstead, ohio this weekend.

on some level yes, it's still kind of shocking that a piece of 20th century composed music could sell over a million copies; on another level though, it should come as no surprise. this is stunningly beautiful and incredibly moving music. the first movement is a 13-minute long crescendo followed by a 13-minute long decrescendo, at whose peak lie upshaw's singing of the final lines of a 15th-century polish poem in which the mother of christ says to her dying son, "my cherished hope, / you are now leaving me." in the second movement, an initial theme full of brightness alternates with darker sections that contain sung text taken from the words written by a 18-year-old girl on the wall of a gestapo prison in 1944 poland, "No, Mother, do not weep,..." every moment here is utterly heartwrenching, to have these words filled at the same time with such pathos -- what is more likely to make a mother cry than having her emprisoned child tell her not to cry, what more selfless gesture could there be in the world? -- to have words of such pathos at the same time filled with such beautiful sonorities. the third and final movement, based on a folksong, concludes on a slightly more positive note, the mother returning the blessing back on the lost child:
Sing for him,
Little song-birds of God,
For his mother
Cannot find him.
And God's little flowers,
May you bloom all around
So that my son
May sleep happily.
an anonymous reviewer makes the intriguing case that the popular appeal of this music lies in the loss of meaning that our current historical moment has a craving to fill, leading it to turn also to the "faith minimalism" of arvo pärt, for example. and while, like pärt, he abandoned the post-serial techniques with which he flirted earlier in his career, górecki's 3rd is so far and away a more interesting piece of music than the static blandness of pärt, whose passio joannem i also picked up this weekend and found somewhat interesting at first but utterly ummoving in the end. górecki's 3rd will break you down and put you back together again -- and more than a little different than you were before.


K. Lorraine Graham said...

Good lord, this is one of my favorite pieces of music ever! And I like the recording with Dawn Upshaw. It's a good one to listen too while lying on the floor.

William R. Howe & L.A. Howe said...

six degrees of tom orange: i know chris perrius! he is a close friend of my friend patricia lewis, and they were at grad school together at u of chicago. patty and i go way back to undergrad days at uc santa barbara. i'm starting to believe i can trace everyone i've ever met back to you. :-) lisa howe